John Cipollina

Meeting one of your musical heroes is always fascinating and it was a strange mixture of awe and interest that took young Campbell and I down to see John Cipollina (belatedly) in action on English soil. We must be grateful to Man for bringing him over, but I would have preferred it to have been in a more familiar role, for instance, with Copperhead or (whisper it) the legendary version of Quicksilver. On the night, Cipollina was a mixture of enigma and cult figure guitar hero. Resplendent in buckskin and cowboy boots, he dominated the stage in the physical sense, being head and shoulders above the Man midgets. Musically, he was fine, when he got the chance. It was only the third night of the tour and things were not really together yet; also, Man were only including two slices of Cipollina's past, the evergreen "Codine" and one of the tracks from "Quicksilver's contribution to the "Revolution" soundtrack. John had brought with him his own sound system, or part of it (details in ZigZag 52.) and his sound was clear as a bell, whether it was on his Gibson or on hawaii/slide guitar. Despite John's reservations about the sound, mainly centering around the different US and English voltages, his soloing made Man's muddy by comparisons. A brief word for Man, who are big Edinburgh favourites having played here four times in eighteen months albeit with four different line-ups), and for bringing John over I'm sure they will earn a lot of people's respect. I'm not too fond of their music on record but they are nice guys to talk to and I'm sure they'll be around for a while yet. After the gig, John spent a long time ensuring that his guitar and amps were safely packed away and took personal possession of his guitars (I wish more musicians took this trouble, instead of leaving stuff around to get occasionally ripped-off by anybody who happens to be passing) before talking to us. Rather than go into the Quicksilver period, ably and exhaustively covered by Peter Frame in various ZigZags, we talked about John's post-Copperhead period.

Over the last five years John has formed a loose, jamming association with a group of Bay area musicians known as Terry and the Pirates and that seemed a logical place to start. "Terry is a soloist, plays acoustic guitar and is a real nice guy. He'd just go out to do a show and a bunch of us would bully our way on stage.... the original Terry & The Pirates, the first congregation if you like, which was about 1970, was Terry, myself, Greg Douglas, a guitarist who is still in the group, Nicky Hopkins on piano, Prairie Prince on drums, Pete Sears and Lonnie Turner alternated on bass and sometimes the Pointer Sisters sang backup. There was a couple of other people and it's changed a lot over the years; some of us left for a while and became Copperhead, but after that we got together again and did some shows, and it was a change to get off. The last line-up of Terry & The Pirates was myself, Greg Douglas, Terry Dolan, Sid Page on violin, David Hayes on bass and Andy Kirby on drums. From what I hear there's a possibility, since our David's back with Van (Morrison), that when we get back to the States we'll do another Terry & The Pirates show using a new bass player, but that's not confirmed, But Terry & The Pirates is basically a non-band and about the only chance most of us have to get together and play a little.

"Yea, we did an album for Warners. It was finished in 1971. Then Warner Brothers said, 'who's this. who are these people .... Pointer Sisters, Cipollina, Neal Schon who are they anyway?' They scrapped it, but they still have the tapes somewhere. The album was paid for, pressed and set for release, It was even at the stage that Warners put it on their release sheet sorta 'next month an album by Terry Dolan' amongst a bunch of others, but it was never released, The album demo got a lot of airplay around the Bay area........"

John's eventual and eventful meeting with Man deserves to be given a mention, "Man did an interview with a San Francisco radio station..... I was out with another non-group, that we pulled up just for the day. I was playing with Link Wrray, my old hero, and there was a drummer and bassist too. The drummer with Copperhead was with them (Link and group) and said 'come on down' and one thing led to another. We were supposed to do a show at the California Institute For Women, which is the biggest women's prison in the United States, and Link had to cancel at the very last minute. So I had already been contracted to play there and I'm not much of a solo guitarist, not much at going out on my own. It was just ludicrous..... I went down to do this gig and at the last gasp I pulled a band together; I got Andy Kirby on drums and this friend of ours, who fixes all my equipment, keeps my rehearsal scene together and who I jam with sometimes. We formed a group for the day, the Sons of Hitler, and we went down to this women's prison and played "Jailhouse Rock" and just about everything else we could think of, the three of us. When we were down there, Man did a radio show and said, 'we'd like to meet John Cipollina' sorta thing. I got back to town a couple of days later, not knowing about this, but a friend at the radio station was trying to contact me. I had moved outta my house and into a hotel for purely erotic and esoteric reasons. I was sorta hiding out in my home town, in a hotel and having a ball. So finally, two or three days later, some friends of mine said, "hey this group Man, they're looking for ya". So I said where are they - turned out they were at Howard Johnson's, the same hotel, right down the hall from me. So I went down to their room and knocks on the door and the drummer says, "come on down to rehearsal", we got there and they said, "come down to Winterland. come on and jam on the encore with us" and I did. I had never heard the song before, got onstage, had a ball playing "Romane". So we hung out in the dressing room and somebody from UA said would I consider going to England for six weeks. I had nothing planned for six weeks, so rather than holiday in my own back yard, I thought I'd holiday in England. It's a gas playing with them and I've really had a good time..... also, I got to visit England at last, which, you know, is sorta my ancestral burial ground".

As I'm sure you all know, the tour finished on a successful note for all concerned, the high point being three consecutive nights of the 'West Coast Weekend' at the Roundhouse, featuring not only Cipollina but that the well known guitarist, Barry Melton, It says a lot that on the weekend of the Led Zap bash at Earls Court and Scotland's unlucky defeat by England at Wembley that all three nights sold out.

Pete Frame's final paragraph in ZZ52 hinted at some other Cipollina projects; work with Clapton, Fred Neil etc., and John elaborated on them, "The Eric Clapton and Neal Schon tapes were part of a Santana project that's never been released. As far as I know, David Brown and I are the only ones, except possibly Santana, that have copies of the tape, I myself would release it, not necessarily because I'm on it, but because it's really good and deserves an outlet".

Fred Neil is an old folkie who I have the highest regard for and I just wish he would record more, but he's very reclusive. So I was most surprised to hear that somebody had prised him out of seclusion to do an album for Just Sunshine Records, "That's a very hard thing to do. I did it myself, I got him out. His old lady's so funny. We snuck over a back fence in the middle of the night and knocked on the glass. Fred comes out in a bathrobe and goes, "sssssshhhh, I'll be out in a second" then he appears in his jeans. Then we started over the fence, "wait a minute" he says, "gotta get my guitar". Then we went down to Mickey's (Mickey Hart) barn, played a few sons and raised hell with the women all night and Fred says, "aaaw, I gotta go home". He's a weird guy, but we really had fun." (That Fred Neil album has never surfaced, but let's look at Just Sunshine Records for a minute because they are not a million miles removed from our tale; most notably they are famous for almost getting Copperhead onto the label and the whole story is there to read in Fat Angel 10. The label was started by Mike Laing, co-organiser of the Woodstock Festival. With Copperhead and the Fred Neil album coming to nothing, all that remains of the Just Sunshine setup is the Fabulous Rhinestones album (JSS1) which is a band led by Harvey 'Super Session' Brooks and Kal David, it's a good bluesy album, with a vintage Paul Butterfield harmonica solo on one track and some fine Ben Keith steel guitar elsewhere. The fold-out sleeve is all bucolic splendour, various band members, shooting rifles, driving tractors and sporting as much facial hair as to make the Band look like Kenny. Just to the left of Mike Laing's photo is the legend, "Avoid Management/Deal Direct", which is fine but coming from a label that promised Copperhead a fee of over $250,OO0 to sign and then couldn't produce it; well it makes you think. There is also a second Rhinestones set, and one by Karen Dalton: do look out for them.

Another name that came up in conversation was that of the Prairie Prince, ace session drummer and most notably on Nicky Hopkins first solo album and a couple of Brewer and Shipley sets, I had always been fascinated by the name and assumed it was a pseudonym, but no, "Prairie Prince is Prairie Prince and nobody else, that's his real name. He's drumming with the Tubes now, a San Francisco group, who are three or four shades past glitter. They have this chick who comes on with nothing on. or nearly nothing and a machine gun. She used to do Patty Hearst or imitations for a while. They're a great band, pretty big in SF." (I'm sure you've all heard of the Tubes by now, I would normally have ignored them out of hand as just another American gross-out fad like Kiss or bands of that ilk, but the album was produced by Al Kooper who doesn't waste his time with junk groups, Cipollina was obviously impressed and a drummer of P Prince's stature obviously, like Kooper, would not get involved in a hype outfit. Listen to the album and read Sounds article of 23/8/75 and make up your own mind.)

Throughout our talk. we were constantly aware of Cipollina's obvious love of his freewheelin' lifestyle which seems to revolve around playing at cowboys, shooting guns and throwing knives, jamming every night in some studio and raising hell with the women', "yeah, we're basically a band of rock 'n' roll mercenaries who invade somebody else's sessions; drink all their booze and steal all their women, and maybe jam the night away..... and about their love of guns (see also ZigZag's 38, 41 and 52 for the whole story), "yeah, I was on the Robert Hunter sessions (for 'Rumrunners'), it was done in a pretty weird studio, Micky Hart's Rolling Thunder studio. Copperhead went up there 'cos we got a chance to practice our shooting and things. We took over the studio and just hung out there because we had more guns than the other bands except for maybe the Charlatans - but they were kinda nondescript and defunct at that time. Anyway when I was up there I did about four or five albums, the 'Rolling Thunder' album, Hunter's album and another bunch of stuff that hasn't been released yet."

That's the current state of John Cipollina then. He was rather vague about his own plans for the future but said he was going to start work on a project of his own music this summer. There's a lot of good music yet to come from the mam, much more than a few licks on somebody else's session. But Quicksilver originally were in no great hurry to record either, so we'll just have to wait and see. Incidentally, if any of you read that non-article in a recent Let It Rock, take it with a pinch of salt, because it was the very same Cipollina that was talkative, informative and helpful to us. Maybe the chick didn't appreciate the man's background or the humour that surfaces every time he speaks, in which case the fault was entirely hers. Better luck next time.


Postscript: UA are to release a live Man/Cipollina album quite soon, which would explain why Cipollina only played the songs on the "Revolution" album: it's on UA and obviously there would be no hassle about the rights to them. Meanwhile, Capitol are deleting the first three classic Quicksilver albums on September 30th - you better get your replacement copies quick - but, I hear that there is a John Tobler compilation job due not long after. And a final rumour just arrived that the original Quicksilver are back together again and ready to gig.

John Cipollina
West Coast Weekend

Bert Muirhead, Hot Wacks 8, Oct/Nov '75
First Photo: Paul Bradshaw

[Bert Muirhead is currently Product Director of River Records.

"Established in 2003 River Records is a new company set up to exclusively manage Scottish Radio Holdings' music archive. Recorded by the original Clyde Mobile Studio and Radio Forth's Sound House, the archive holds over 600 top quality live concert recordings and unique studio sessions dating from the mid - 70's up to the present day.

The Recording Venues include the legendary Glasgow Apollo Theatre and Barrowland Ballroom, as well as Edinburgh's Playhouse Theatre and Usher Hall.

Archive Artists include U2, Madness, Radiohead, Rory Gallagher, Average White Band, Nazareth, Roxy Music, Sammy Hagar, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart and many more.

The Label is presently working with Artists, Managers, Record Companies and Music Publishers in order to bring this wealth of extraordinary musical performances to the public."]

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Last updated: 13-Sep-2004